Qian Li ’19 is an English and film and media culture joint major from China.

Qian Li ’19 makes dumplings to celebrate the Chinese New Year in her home town of Shenyang.

As the campus became quiet following the recess on February 1, I embarked a journey over 8000 miles to Northeast China to celebrate Spring Festival, the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar and the most important festival in China. With a history of more than 3000 years, Spring Festival went all the way up to the origin of Shang Dynasty and remained a special place in the hearts of Chinese people.

Just like Christmas in the U.S., Spring Festival is the time for all the family members to get together and celebrate with food and drinks. No matter how long it takes, people would manage to get back home for a family reunion dinner on the New Year’s Eve.

For the first time in the past four years, I became one of the travellers in the iconic bustling Spring Festival Travel Rush. After flying over 20 hours and changing three different flights, I finally arrived in my hometown, Shenyang, on February 3, and was immediately greeted by the bright color of red that could be seen almost everywhere on the streets and in my grandparents’ home—red paper-cuts on the window, red couplets on the door panels, red lanterns hanging by the door or the window.

While Spring Festival and the first day of the Year of the Pig technically fell on February 5, the festival season already kicked off weeks ago with many traditional customs. Cleaning the house to get rid of the old dust and decorate for new fortunes, preparing for a homemade family reunion dinner on the New Year’s Eve, shopping for gifts and new clothes to bring back home, getting a new haircut, etc.

Until the New Year’s Eve, everyone was busy and had their own tasks; mine, was to accompany Grandma to get a new haircut, to help Grandpa sweep and mop the house while reminding him of shaving, to get fresh fruits and other needed groceries, and to assist my aunt-in-law for any preparation of the big meal, which had eight major dishes, including homemade pork skin jelly and seasoned beef, savory pork trotters, and most importantly, a whole braised fish, symbolizing a surplus in the end of the coming year.

On the night of Feb. 4, everything was ready. Accompanying the much-awaited 8-dish meal, there was one more thing to look forward to. Not the red pockets, with luck money wrapped inside to chase away evil spirits from kids. I am talking about the Spring Festival Gala—a 4.5 hour television program that went live at 8 p.m. Starring talents and pop stars, the show brought delightful songs and dances, comic sketches, acrobatic performances for Chinese people all around the world, leading to a collective countdown of the new year. Following the bell at 0:00, the sky was lighted with the greatest mass of colorful fireworks and you could hear firecrackers exploding and banging from afar. Both the visual and the auditory celebration reached a peak, but it was just the beginning.

On the morning of the first day of the year, it has been a tradition in my family to get up early, dress up in new clothes, and help with dumpling making while waiting for more visiting relatives. Around noon, the whole family, with four generations from my 86-year-old grandparents to my 17-month baby niece, went out to a restaurant and enjoyed a hearty meal of 16 dishes.

As people took a seven-day break for Spring Festival, joy and happiness filled each household and prevailed in the streets outside with local temple fairs and folk shows. While my family members looked forward to celebrating my grandfather’s birthday on the sixth of the new year, I had to start heading back for my last semester at Middlebury. Although travelling across the Pacific Ocean on a long flight was not something too exciting for me, I was filled with a spirit of joy overflowing in my heart. Filled with dumplings and food from home, I felt like a different person, who was happy to carry a little more holiday weight!